The plot of Holes doesn't have many. Louis Sachar's narrative of the gap between childhood and maturity lays all over itself in graceful loops, like the rattlesnakes the boys at Camp Green Lake have to avoid (or not). A strand that seems to be no more than a funny detail will appear later and bring several folds together.
Is Holes a mystery? a Western tale of lost love and revenge? a coming-of-age story? a dark comedy? a Shawshank Redemption for teenage delinquents rather than adult criminals? Yes. It's even got some Eastern European folklore thrown in, some family saga, and lots of absurdity. Sachar's genius is that all these disparate elements make a single story.
Stanley Yelnats ends up at a dubious correctional facility in the middle of Texas after being wrongly convicted for stealing a pair of shoes belonging to famous baseball player Clyde Livingston. He knows he's innocent, but he doesn't make a big deal about it, trying to fit in with the rough crowd of bad boys instead of bringing more attention to himself than need be.
Every day the boys head out to the desert to dig holes. Each hole must be 5 1/2 feet deep with a 5 1/2 foot diameter in every direction. They dig and dig and dig, plugging away at slave labor on behalf of the mysterious Warden and the ridiculous but still dangerous Mr. Sir. The boys are looking for something, but they don't know what for.
Instead, they're told repeatedly that the digging is just to build character. The boys, after all, are convicts, and their stay at Camp Green Lake is court-ordered punishment for whatever wrong they've done. It's ironic that most of them seem to be thieves (or at least accused thieves) since the Warden, it turns out, is looking to steal another thief's loot using the boys as free labor.
When he first arrives at the camp, Stanley Yelnats IV is fat, not accustomed to hard labor, and regularly bullied. His inventor father is a nice guy but kinda weird, and the family is happy and loving but poor. By the time Stanley's time at Camp Green Lake is over, he's a much different boy, wiser, stronger, and more mature.
Part of his growing up is due to his sullen friend Zero, a young black boy who can dig faster than any of the others, and whom Stanley teaches to read. The two form an unbreakable bond as things escalate all around them and what started out as a lot of hard work turns into danger and near-death experiences.
Sachar writes with wit and intelligence, weaving his various strands together so easily that we can't see that he's doing it at first, the way a magician makes coins disappear. But Holes isn't just a magic trick—it's an homage to great storytelling, the importance of learning from and correcting our mistakes, and just good clean entertainment.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.
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